A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

Some thoughts on Al Jefferson and the Bobcats defense-driven improvement

with one comment

After finishing with one of the two worst records in the league last year, the Bobcats spent big on Al Jefferson (paying him 15 million a year) and are now cruising to a playoff spot on the back of his career best season.

However if the NBA was played on paper, there’d be reason to doubt Big Al is responsible for this impact. In 2012-2013 the Bobcats finished 28th in offense (ORTG) and 30th in defense (DRTG), in 2013-2014 they are 24th in offense and 8th in defense. Big Al is known as an offense-first player who’s a defensively liability at C. Furthermore while Jefferson is averaging 21.5ppg it’s on .529 TS, one of the big movement in analytics is to claim high volume, below average efficiency players, are overrated. So an analytics-first person may say Jefferson has not improved the Bobcats offense much because of his inefficiency, while the team’s leap forward is on defense where he’s not contributing outside of rebounding.

But a case can be made Al has an in-direct impact on the team’s defense. I’ve been of the opinion for a while, defense is connected to energy. Not every team can play as hard as they can at all times on defense. If they due it may lead to a woeful offense, such as most Larry Brown and Scott Skiles teams. A team like this year’s Pacers may be one who is playing so hard defensively it may cost them on the offensive end.

The argument for why Al helps the Bobcats may start with this concept. By the offense leaning so hard on Al Jefferson, the Bobcats may have more energy to put on defense, both mentally and physically. Players like Kemba Walker, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Gerald Henderson, Josh McRoberts, Chris Douglas-Roberts, Bismack Biyombo may have a greater defensive focus because Al is on the team.

That’s in addition to tangible ways for a team to build more defensively now that they have Al. Last year Ben Gordon and Byron Mullens, two of the worst defenders and lowest impact players in the league, may have been playing because the coach thought “someone has to take shots”, pushing him to give minutes to shot jackers who are efficiency and defensive sieves. Big Al filled that volume hole on his own, allowing them to play more defensively competent and efficient role players.

The Bobcats are 1st in defensive rebounding % in the league this year (after finishing 29th last year) but are only 27th in offensive rebounding % which is probably a sign of coaching strategy. The Bobcats may not be going for offensive rebounds because they want to guard in transition more, or they may just be exerting more energy on the defensive glass than the offensive glass. When the Bobcats were 18th in offensive rebounding and 29th in defensive rebounding last year, they may have been likewise strategically targeting offensive rebounds more.

All in all, I’m of the opinion that talent often finds a way to win to their talent level, if they are well coached and play together. The Bobcats paid the money to improve their talent level this summer and reaped the benefits, in one way or another. They have a team who’s very good at defense and with enough offensive liabilities that the team may fall apart on that end without Kemba Walker and Al Jefferson using so many possessions at an OK level. That tells me Walker and Jefferson are important to their success. Every team still has to score enough to win.

Of course none of this is a guarantee. It’s possible the immediate picture the stats provide are right and the Bobcats improvement comes from coaching, an improvement of other young players and getting rid of Gordon and Mullens. But I lean towards Big Al having as important a role in this team’s step forward as it seems.

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Written by jr.

March 31, 2014 at 11:10 pm

One Response

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  1. Their record is buoyed significantly by their post AS break play (13-8) during which time they have had an ORtg of 110. Over that span Jefferson has been averaging 25 points per game on 0.55 TS%.

    Gavolt

    April 1, 2014 at 2:44 pm


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